With Avengers: Endgame gloriously bringing to a close the twenty-two film interconnected multiverse, I thought it may be fun to pick my favourite films of the superhero releases. Of course, that won’t be the end of the Marvel/Disney money-making behemoth but we can take a breath for a moment.
In keeping with Thanos’ modus operandi I have chosen half of the films in release date order. At the end I pick — under pain of death — my favourite THREE! My favourite three are based on impact on release, entertainment value, quality of story, direction and writing etc. Plus, they are films I could watch again and again. Although, to be honest I can watch most of them again as they are all such fun and easy viewing.
If you would like to read my review of Avengers: Endgame – then you can find it HERE.
MY TOP ELEVEN MARVEL UNIVERSE FILMS (IN ORDER OF RELEASE)
IRON MAN (2008)
AVENGERS: ASSEMBLE (2012)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER (2014)
GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (2014)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: CIVIL WAR (2016)
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
THOR: RAGNAROK (2017)
BLACK PANTHER (2018)
AVENGERS: INFINITY WAR (2018)
AVENGERS: ENDGAME (2019)
MY TOP THREE MARVEL UNIVERSE FILMS (BY PAIN OF DEATH)
CAPTAIN AMERICA: WINTER SOLDIER (2014) – “THE ELEVATOR SCENE”
Directed by: Anthony Russo, Joe Russo
Produced by: Kevin Feige
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: Captain America: by Joe Simon , Jack Kirby
Starring: Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Sebastian Stan, Anthony Mackie
Cinematography: Trent Opaloch
Edited by: Jeffrey Ford, Matthew Schmidt
In my original review of Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) – which can be found here – I described the film as: “. . . neat socio-political commentary – full of the rip-roaring action.” In fact I think it is still my favourite Marvel film of the lot due to the fantastic conspiracy driven plot allied with some incredible stunts and action. Moreover, Steve Rogers’ relationship with Bucky Barnes is also further developed and thoroughly tested in an emotionally effective fraternal friendship breakdown.
The film has many standout scenes but one is more memorable than others in my view. It’s the scene in the elevator where Rogers finds himself being turned on by those he believed he could trust at Shield. It doesn’t intrinsically, until the culmination of the set-piece, involve massive explosions and CGI-driven action. Indeed, the “elevator/lift scene” is a wonderfully executed fight scene which makes use of its limited space to place our protagonist in an almighty bind.
Rogers enters the lift and immediately begins to feel something could be afoot. As more and more – what we eventually learn to be – Hydra henchmen enter the lift the editing builds fantastic suspense. Various shots build anticipation: looks from Rogers; a bead of sweat running down a man-in-black’s back; plus hushed conversation from an “office worker” in the lift. Then just before the fight ensues Rogers utters a great one-liner to set it all up: “Before we get started – does anyone want to get out!”
It’s already a classic scene before the brutal hand-to-hand combat kicks off and encapsulates the mix of paranoia and adrenalized action present within the whole movie. Watch it here:
Screenplay by: Christopher Markus, Stephen McFeely
Based on: The Avengers by Stan Lee, Jack Kirby
Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Benedict Cumberbatch, Don Cheadle, Tom Holland, Chadwick Boseman, Paul Bettany, Elizabeth Olsen, Anthony Mackie, Sebastian Stan, Danai Gurira, Letitia Wright, Dave Bautista, Zoe Saldana. Josh Brolin, Chris Pratt etc.
The reward for Marvel fans and cinemagoers committed to watching every single film – from Iron Man (2008) to Black Panther (2018) – is a gigantic, breath-taking, explosive, colourful, dark, epic, fantastical end-game blockbuster. Unless you have been stuck on a desert island or on a digital detox, Infinity War (2018) is the culmination of decades of comic-book and cinema storytelling coming to a head in one incredible feat of spectacle and super-hero conflict.
The film opens pretty much immediately after the end of Thor: Ragnarok (2017). The Titan Thanos (Josh Brolin) has hunted down Thor, Loki and the Hulk in order to obtain the Tesseract and the Infinity Stone within it. In fact, he is after all six Infinity Stones in order to gain twisted, yet in his mind, logical control over the Universe by killing half its inhabitants. Thanos’ characterization as a villain is given the most narrative power throughout and via him we get some nuance and subtext.
While brilliantly rendered, in look, by the army of special effects, and performance by Brolin, I kind of felt we were missing an element of mania and a committed statement of intent. I knew why Thanos was doing what he was doing but aside from an opening speech about destiny his mission lacked the political or social context compared to say that of Hydra from The Winter Soldier (2014) or Erik Killmonger from Black Panther (2018). Nonetheless, lack of political context is a mild gripe because spectacle in terms of power and storytelling is what Infinity War is all about.
Thanos’ quest for domination was still a pretty decent structure to hang the story beats on and the writers should be applauded for trying to create a rounded super-villain. Because, allied with the incredible set-pieces and locations across the various galaxies, a major strength of Infinity War’s screenplay was the pace, power and interplay between the multiverse of characters and plot strands which were fantastically juggled by the directorial and editorial teams. This was epic storytelling, not just in length, but in scope. As we cut between Dr Strange, Iron Man and Spiderman on their particularly deadly mission; we also cut between Thor, The Guardians of the Galaxy, Vision, Wanda the Scarlet Witch, Captain America and their respective advnetures. There are so many different elements at play there is little breathing space, yet with a whip-smart script full of one-liners any plot deficiencies are masked expertly with perpetual motion and punchlines.
Visually, the film is also extremely strong with bright funky new suits for the Hulk, Tony Stark and Peter Parker. Moreover, the locations in space and on Earth from the dark lands of Vormir to the verdant pastures of Wakanda are rendered beautifully on the screen. All manner of magical weapons, space-ships and military hardware explode and destroy and whizz-bang throughout. There is SO much crammed into the film that it’s a major coup that it worked so well. At one point I felt like I was watching three films in one echoing the great ensemble films I grew up with such as The Great Escape (1963). While the now obligatory end-game battle sequence echoed the likes of: Spartacus (1960), Braveheart (1995), The Return of the Jedi (1985) and more recently HBO’s epic Game of Thrones (2011 – )
In terms of performance it’s difficult to pick out any one stand-out as the ensemble cast were uniformly impressive. My particular favourites were Benedict Cumberbatch as Dr Strange, Chris Pratt as Peter Quill and Zoe Saldana as Gamora, all giving memorable performances. Saldana’s Gamora arguably had the most powerful moments of stillness and pathos especially in her tragic backstory. Drax (Dave Bautista) and Tom Holland’s Peter Parker nailed their comedic patter too; the former’s deadpan literalism raising many laughs throughout. I also thought the details in look and voice given to Thanos’ Black Order stood out; notably the wonderfully named Proxima Midnight (Carrie Coon) and Corvus Glaive (Michael John Shaw).
In conclusion, Avengers: Infinity War (2018) overall was spectacular blockbuster filmmaking which entertained me thoroughly for over two-and-a-half-hours. It could be argued that the army of special effects technicians, plethora of Disney and Marvel executives, array of Hollywood acting and filmmaking talent and the obscene amount of money spent has churned out YET another soulless super-hero film but wow didn’t they do it in style!!
DIRECTOR(S): Noah Hawley, Michael Uppendahl, Larysa Kondracki, Tim Mielants, Hiro Murai, Dennie Gordon
WRITER(S): Noah Hawley, Peter Calloway, Nathaniel Halpern, Jennifer Yale – based on Marvel’s Legion created by Chris Claremont & Bill Seinkiewicz
CAST: Dan Stevens, Aubrey Plaza, Rachel Keller, Jean Smart, Jeremie Harris, Jemaine Clement, Bill Irwin
**REVIEW CONTAINS SPOILERS**
Noah Hawley is a postmodern auteur par excellence. He takes established genre output and influences from film, television and literature, before translating them through his creative persona to breathe paradoxical original life into his productions. For example, he actually had the creative courage to take one of my favourite films Fargo (1996) and turn it into a brilliant and quirky television series. Similarly he has done the same with Marvel’s comic-book-X-Men-based-anti-hero Legion.
Of course the superhero/heroine genre has become massive business at the box office. I loved Nolan’s Batman trilogy and personally am also a big Marvel and Avengers fan, believing the Captain America trilogy to be representative of the height of the genre model. Meanwhile, the X-Men franchise also has some fine entries too notably X-Men: First Class (2011) and Days of Future Past (2014); and Netflix’s Daredevil (2015) has also given us two seasons of gritty and energetic delight too. Yet arguably some of the more intriguing Marvel adaptations have been the lesser known products such as: Ant Man (2015), Doctor Strange (2016) and the effervescent Guardians of the Galaxy (2014). Now, FX’s sensational television series Legion (2017) proves to be the most mind-boggling and consistently brilliant of the lot.
It features a talented ensemble cast led by the intensely brilliant Dan Stevens portraying a mentally disturbed young man called David Haller. The pilot episode’s opening sequence establishes his issues from a young age through teenage-hood right through to the now as he finds himself in a psychiatric hospital being treated for schizophrenia. Patients he connects with mostly are Aubrey Plaza’s eccentric and wild Lenny Busker and the more sensitive Sydney Barrett (Rachel Keller). Syd cannot stand to be touched – a character quirk which is soon to be revealed more than a phobia – yet her and David fall for each other. This romance propels one facet of the multi-stranded narrative; at the same time providing the story with much empathy and heart.
The main thrust of the narrative though is totally cerebral. While David finds himself in the middle of a war between mutants and the shady government agency called Division Three, we essentially spend many of the episodes in David’s troubled mind. There events unfold in a whirling cavalcade of images, characters and monsters all battling for supremacy of his brain. At times I could not work out what was happening yet I felt compelled, like last year’s HBO production Westworld (2016), to persist and the rewards and payoffs in the final episodes are indeed legion. Because the show, no doubt propelled by Hawley’s creativity and the original source material, is brimming with stunning ideas and visuals that literally burst out of the screen.
The cast are incredible. Dan Stevens cements himself as one of the best emerging actors and he is destined for stardom in my view. Aubrey Plaza, who was great at laconic sarcasm in Parks and Revelations is wildly over-the-top and entertaining in her devious role; while Rachel Keller is the polar opposite: doe-eyes cute, vulnerable but with steely determination to protect David. My favourite supporting character was Flight of the Conchords’ comedian Jemaine Clement as a far-out scientist lost to the astral plane. His delivery and deportment just made me laugh out loud amidst the madness on show.
This is as imaginative and original take on the superhero/mutant/X-Men genre you are going to find. Many people lost their shit over Logan (2017) but that is pedestrian compared to Legion. It also very cleverly melds themes relating to: mutation, special powers, telekinesis, split-personality, disassociation and schizophrenia expertly while wearing its’ influences neatly on its sleeves. Indeed, if you’re a fan of One Flew over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975), I’m a Cyborg But That’s Okay (2005), Clockwork Orange (1971), Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004) , Inception (2010) and the work of David Lynch, then you’ll love Noah Hawley’s masterful Marvel adaptation.
TOP TWELVE BESTEST FILMS AND TV SHOWS OF 2016 – SCREENWASH SPECIAL BY PAUL LAIGHT
Well, here’s wishing you a prosperous New Year going forward! I’ve read somewhere that apparently 2016 wasn’t a vintage year for movies but I went to the cinema a lot and saw a whole host of cracking entertainment. Likewise, television budgets and production values continue to soar and there were some incredible shows produced too.
So, here are my TOP TWELVE films I saw at the cinema AND TOP TWELVE television shows watched/streamed. Some of the films and TV programmes may have bled from 2015 into 2016 release-wise; moreover, I have also included a couple of yet-to-be-released films I saw at the London Film Festival.
Remember dudes these are not necessarily the best films or shows but the ones I enjoyed the most. So, overall, it’s just my opinion, man.
TOP TWELVE FILMS SEEN AT THE CINEMA IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)
“. . .an intelligent and emotional science-fiction drama with a beautifully constructed narrative.”
BONE TOMAHAWK (2015)
“A tremendous genre-blend of horror and Western, this debut feature from S. Craig Zahler is destined to be a cult classic.”
CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016)
“. . . again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily one of the blockbusters of the year.”
DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)
“. . .wonderful fun with hallucinogenic visuals, eye-popping fight scenes plus mystical marvels!”
THE HATEFUL EIGHT (2015)
“. . . QT remakes Reservoir Dogs (1992) via Agatha Christie, setting it in the snowy West of America circa 1870s.”
“. . . heart-racking drama which stretches the emotions while also providing flickers of light amidst the pain.”
MEN AND CHICKEN (2015)
“. . . lurches from hilarious physical violence to examinations of religion and science in a film I can only describe as being like the Three Stooges meet The Island of Dr Moreau.”
THE NICE GUYS (2016)
“. . . pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace with a script filled with so many hilarious punchlines and sight gags.”
“. . . great horror film which has one of the most disgusting scenes I have had the pleasure to see for some time.”
THE REVENANT (2015)
“. . . just superb, grueling, bloody, epic and beautiful filmmaking!”
ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY (2016)
“. . . a rip roaring mission-in-space-war movie set just before the original Star Wars movie!”
“. . . a film not just about isolation, abandonment and the horror of humanity; but also the unbridled love a mother has for their child.”
TOP TWELVE TV SHOWS SEEN IN 2016 (in alphabetical order)
BETTER CALL SAUL (2016) – SEASON 2
“Are there any better character drama shows around than this show? The writing and acting in Season 2 was just brilliant.”
BILLIONS (2016) – SEASON 1
“. . . great acting, script and cat-and-mouse twists galore in a meaty twelve episodes.”
DAREDEVIL (2016) – SEASON 2
“This has it all including: amazing fight scenes, bloody violence, rip-roaring action and hellish derring-do!”
FARGO (2015) – SEASON 2
“. . . drama, humour and suspense are incredible as is the cast.”
GAME OF THRONES (2016) – SEASON 6
“. . . these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight.”
GOMORRAH (2016) – SEASON 2
“. . . further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire.”
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2016) – SEASON 11
“. . . gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity.”
MAKING A MURDERER (2015) – SEASON 1
“. . . It is as thrilling and suspenseful as anything Hitchcock created as the trials of these men and their families are thrust before us.”
PENNY DREADFUL (2016) – SEASON 3
“. . .a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was gone.”
SOUTH PARK (2016) – SEASON 20
“. . . yet another fantastically gross, satirical and ballsy animated series from Parker and Stone.”
STEWART LEE’S COMEDY VEHICLE (2016) – SEASON 4
“. . . Lee is a human anti-depressant lifting my spirits while at the same time making me think about the very nature of the subjects he tackles.”
WESTWORLD (2016) – SEASON 1
“Brilliant and exquisite Sci-fi-western-mash-up from Michael Crichton, Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy.”
June was both a very special month of viewing and also sad because one of my favourite shows shuffled off into TV heaven after three scintillating seasons. I also watched some excellent genre films; the month being very much about quality of viewing rather than quantity. As usual, marks out of eleven and of course:
SCREENWASH FILM AND TV REVIEWS – JUNE 2016
**MASSIVE SPOILERS HERE**
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON TWO – NOW TV
The first season of this “first world” sex-charged adult drama was compelling stuff with fine performances from Ruth Wilson, Dominic West and Maura Tierney respectively. The suspense was palpable, the writing sharp; and the characters – while not wholly likeable – had a humane quality that drew you in. The second season though just got on my nerves a bit and I just didn’t give a toss in the end despite some memorable scenes. Plus, the teenage daughter made me want to drown her in a ditch, such was her irritability factor. So, in the end I just gave up around episode eight. (Mark: 5 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT – SEASON 3 – (2005)
The final season in the first run before it was cancelled and subsequently rebirthed by Netflix was another tremendously hilarious comedy of errors; featuring a rogues gallery of vapid narcissistic characters all trying and failing to out-do each other. Aside from the wonderful performances from Jason Bateman, David Cross, Michael Cera, Jessica Walter, Will Arnett and so on, the law have George Bluth Snr under house arrest while Michael tries to keep the business going. He also falls in love with an English retard (played by Charlize Theron) while ultimately ending up in Iraq trying to resolve some shady shenanigans. The season is most memorable for a Godzilla parody with Tobias dressed in a massive mole costume smashing down “Tiny Town” in front of bemused Japanese investors. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
AMERICAN HORROR STORY: FREAKSHOW (2015) – NETFLIX
I love this bleak, violent, bloody, over-the-top horror anthology from writers Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk. They truly are horror connoisseurs as they introduce us to a litany of gruesome characters, situations and narratives all set in a circus freakshow in 1950s USA. This is no apple-pie-white-picket-fence-Americana because we get: killer clowns, Siamese Twins, two-faced ghouls, midgets, Amazonian women, hermaphrodites, Nazi murderers and many, many more freaks and monsters on display. Once again, like the previous seasons, the ensemble cast are quality, notably Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson and the majestic Jessica Lange. Arguably the most horrendous character though is the spoilt-rich-boy-millionaire-killer, Dandy, played with evil abandon by potential star Finn Wittrock. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
THE CONJURING 2 (2016) – CINEMA
Great magicians astound you even when you know how a trick works. Therefore I heartily recommend this follow-up to, believe-it-or-not, The Conjuring (2013). Director James Wan is a master magician and uses every deception, distraction and reveal in the book to deliver a devilish and nail-biting horror story based once again on the work of paranormal investigators Lorraine and Ed Warren. The springboard for the terror is the infamous Enfield haunting in which a gnarled dead pensioner terrorized a North London family. Vera Farmiga and Patrick Wilson bring quiet quality to the ghoulish hysterics and James Wan once again proves he is arguably the best horror director around. The film is worthy of the admission for the invention of another great monster in the guise of a ghastly pale-faced nun. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
GAME OF THRONES – SEASON 6 (2016) – NOW TV
If I had a sword to my throat I would have to say that this – in terms of pulsating storytelling, dramatic twists and bloodcurdling action – is one of the best seasons of television I have EVER SEEN! Book geeks are probably spitting crisps over their keyboards but now the writers are free of the shackles of the gigantic novels, these ten episodes were just a pacey, brutal, vicious, conniving, fiery, animalistic, blinding, cutting, resurrecting delight. I can’t speak of all the plot strands as there were too many but the wheels were really turning and new alliances forming notably: Daenerys and her flight toward Westeros; Arya becoming no one and then learning new deadly abilities; a violent “Dog” from the past returning to go on a kill-crazy rampage; formerly dead Jon Snow coming back to life and marching on Winterfell in order to defeat evil Ramsay Bolton; Sansa Stark also joined the Ramsay revenge queue, with Lord Baelish in the wings too; and the piece de resistance was Cersei Lannister battle of wills with the High Sparrow who was slowly clawing all she held dear away from her. Overall, it was a ballsy drama which gave us twists and violence galore and my viewing schedule will have a massive hole to fill over the next year! (Mark: 11 out of 11)
GOMORRAH – SEASON 2 (2016) – NOW TV
The first season of Gomorrah was gritty-Italian-kitchen-sink-gangster-drama at its finest. It followed the shadowy, mean Neapolitan street-hoodlums and their drug trafficking, double-crosses, political corruptions and murderous shootouts. The General lording over the territory was Don Pietro Savastano but his empire was undermined by foot-soldier Ciro Di Marzio and his crooked alliance with Salvatore Conte. Savastano’s raw and inexperienced son Genny also attempted to rise up the ladder but his bullish impatience became his undoing. In Season 2 the power struggle between these three characters continues, and over the ten episodes further brutality and skulduggery follows in a show which has a heart of pitch black darkness acted out like a contemporary reflection of the Roman Empire. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
HUSH (2016) – NETFLIX
Horror filmmaker Mike “Oculus” Flanagan is a pretty decent genre director and here he sets up another interesting premise while delivering some efficient scares in the process. Kate Siegel plays a mute-deaf writer who – in desiring solitude – lives in the woods to carve out her latest novel. Alas, her peace is invaded by a masked psycho – what are the chances! – and she must overcome her restrictions to fight them off. Contrived and cheap it may be, Flanagan shows he’s a confident helmer who deserves a bigger budget to work with. (Mark: 6.5 out of 11)
IRRATIONAL MAN (2015) – NOW TV
Woody Allen is one of the greatest writer-directors of all time and his curriculum vitae boasts an incredible array of amazing films. His latest cinematic efforts have on occasions hit great heights; films such as Whatever Works (2009), Midnight in Paris (2011), Blue Jasmine (2013) and Magic in the Moonlight (2014) all benefitted from Allen’s trademark wit and intriguing characterisation. Irrational Man stars Joaquin Phoenix as a misanthropic writer who hates the world but somehow finds meaning in a random act of violence. At the same time he has a love affair with his student, pretty Emma Stone; and the two narrative strands ultimately become entwined in a pleasing black comedy. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
THE NICE GUYS (2016) – CINEMA
Writer/director Shane Black created a winning cop-buddy formula with Lethal Weapon, continued it with the very under-rated Kiss, Kiss, Bang, Bang (2005) and having hit behemoth-budget pay dirt with Iron Man 3 (2013) he once again nails the buddy-noir-comedy-action film. The Nice Guys stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling as a couple of private dicks and their haphazard pairing pings a shaggy-dog narrative along at a cracking pace. The script is filled with so many hilarious punchlines, sight gags, salty dialogue and a suggestion of occasional pathos too. It combines late 70s corruption with pornographers while presenting a sparkling nostalgia script filtering Chinatown(1974) via Starsky and Hutch. Overall one of the most entertaining films I’ve seen all year. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
PEAKY BLINDERS – SEASON 3 (2016) – BBC IPLAYER
The third season of the stylish period drama once again finds Thomas Shelby (brilliant Cillian Murphy) and his clan attempting to expand their business empire from the Birmingham backstreets across the Atlantic and further. This season has some fine villains including venal priest played by Paddy Considine and communist-fleeing Russian aristocrats. As well as the usual muscular-bleeding-tattooed-coked-up-masculinity on show, writer Steven Knight presents a set of powerful female characters too who are just as ruthless and deadly as the male counterparts. It’s a cracking drama all-told; a high-quality flagbearer for the BBC. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
PENNY DREADFUL – SEASON 3 – (2016) – NOW TV
Alas, Showtime/Sky Atlantic’s Penny Dreadful is no more; gone forever into the misty poetic ether. Season 3 had been a blindingly beautiful and bloody wondrous season as various narrative threads unfolded but then suddenly it was deceased; gone; buried; over; a fog in the mists of time. I watched in wonder while Rory Kinnear as Frankenstein’s Monster/”John Clare” availed to reconcile with his long lost family; Ethan “Talbot” Chandler in the hands of US Marshals facing certain death; Dr Jekyll and Dr Frankenstein attempting to “cure” the insane; Lily raising a feminist army of whores to wreak havoc on man; plus the ever-beautiful-yet-haunted Vanessa Ives battling a whole host of new demons internally and externally. This is one of my favourite shows of recent years and alas the ending was somewhat abrupt. However, the vampiric London setting juxtaposed superbly with the violent Western arena where cowboys battled snakes and wolves. Despite the touching, yet mildly flat denouement, as gothic horror goes this drama possessed three seasons of monstrous wonder. (Mark: 10.5 out of 11)
May was a decent month of viewing with some things old, some things new and nothing blue watched at all. So, here are my TV, film and comedy reviews for the month of May – with marks out of 11 as usual.
THE AFFAIR (2014) – SEASON ONE – NOW TV
Very much a “first world” problem drama starring the excellent Dominic West, Maura Tierney and the effervescent Ruth Wilson, it shows the events an extramarital affair causes to two different families. The acting and writing are just superb as West and Wilson’s sexually charged attraction spills into duplicity, body heat and suspense. The storytelling is excellent too as each episode shows multiple events from different perspectives and the characters are both irritating and intriguing with their wonky moral compasses and poor life choices. The Affair is highly compelling and keeps you gripped throughout. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT (2003 – 2004) – NETFLIX
How the hell did I miss this cracking comedy first time round beats me?! The hilarious show centres on the disastrous Bluth family who are all narcissistic egoists all trying to manipulate each other in some financial or emotional way. Even the sanest of the lot Michael Bluth (Jason Bateman) is a flawed “hero”, although he is positively angelic compared to the other members of his family including failed magician Gob (Will Arnett), pill-popping matriarch Lucille (Jessica Walter), deluded Lindsay (Portia De Rossi) and imprisoned father portrayed with sociopathic insouciance by Jeffrey Tambor. The brilliant ensemble cast (including among others: David Cross, Michael Cera, Henry Winkler, Liza Minnelli, Tony Hale etc.) hit the rapid-fire gags and deranged scenarios out of the ballpark; as the show perfectly encapsulates the very epitome of a dysfunctional family. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD (2007) – BLU RAY
Andrew Dominik’s moody Western is one of the BEST films I have seen in the last 10 years. It was a box-office flop but everything about it screamed greatness to me: stunning cinematography; wonderful cast; beautiful vistas; elegant pace; resonating themes regarding notoriety; and so on and so forth. Sam Rockwell excels in a supporting role as Charley Ford who gets caught between the eerie homo-erotic hero-worship-then-rivalry of his brother Robert (stunning Casey Affleck) and eponymous Jesse James (never better Brad Pitt). The film moves at a glacial pace, building character and suspense, while in between, the sporadic bursts of violence startle and raise the pulse in an altogether memorable cinematic experience. (Mark: 10 out of 11)
CAPTAIN AMERICA 3: CIVIL WAR (2016) – CINEMA
Historical reviews on this very blog have been favourable about Captain America and his exploits; in fact he is probably my favourite Marvel Avenger I’d say. His last outing Captain America: Winter Soldier (2014) was one of my films of the year, so I had high hopes for Civil War. The final film in the trilogy delivers a cracking rollercoaster ride filled with tremendous action, set-pieces and plot twists. As usual the army of Marvel effects technicians deliver an array of computer-generated mastery with a cacophony of colour, explosions, chases, fighting and bone-crunching sound effects.
The strong narrative involves a number of strands which link the prior two films as Steve Rogers protects his brainwashed buddy Bucky Barnes from the US government and allied Avengers attempting to bring him to justice for his crimes. Moreover, Iron Man, Black Widow, Vision and others face off against Captain America and his team in order to make the Avengers more accountable for their actions. This culminates in THE BEST ACTION SEQUENCE of the year as the Avengers have a battle royale on an airstrip in Germany. Overall, it’s a brilliant film which has welcome cameos from Ant-Man and another new Spiderman; while also introducing the all-action nobility of the Black Panther. Again the Russo Brothers direct with whip-cracking pace and humour, making this easily the blockbuster of the year. (Mark: 9.5 out of 11)
GOTHAM (2015) – SEASON 1 – NETFLIX
TV boxset watching is often like a cultural version of Stockholm syndrome. Some programmes grab you immediately while others you have to watch enough of before you give in to their demands. With that in mind, it took about 11 episodes before started enjoying Gotham. It began poorly with terrible dialogue and hammy acting and the Batman canon timeline, tone and characters are all over the shop. However, by the end it had won me over as a trashy guilty pleasure mixing horror, comic-book, crime, Western and fantasy genres. Highlights are the succession of violent cartoon villains and young versions of villains-to-come while Ben Mckenzie (Gordon), Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin), Sean Pertwee (Alfred) and Corey Michael Smith (Edward Nygma) steal the show. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
GREEN ROOM (2015) – CINEMA
This was an excellent sophomore feature film from writer/director Jeremy “Blue Ruin” Saulnier, as we find a punk band pitted against neo-Nazis in the back beyond of Portland, USA. It borrows heavily from George Romero and John Carpenter but the filmmakers and cast create a really nasty horror-show as the death of a rock fan spirals totally out of control. A fine cast including: Alia Shawkat, Joe Cole, Anton Yelchin, Amanda Poot, and an against-the-grain-playing-nasty Patrick Stewart. Despite the stupidity of the band and Nazis I was gripped throughout and there is some terrific gore and box-cutting violence and recommended for those who like their thrills rare and bloody. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA – SEASON 11 – NETFLIX
Oh the man-children, Dennis, Charlie, Mac and Frank – and not forgetting bird-girl Dee – are back for another season of anarchic derring-do at Paddy’s Pub and beyond. As a massive fan of this very naughty show I was very much looking forward to the mayhem of Season 11; and they did not let us down. In this season we had episodes: parodying 80s ski films; Charlie capturing a Leprechaun; the gang getting trapped on a Christian cruise; Charlie and Mac move to the suburbs; Dee gets involved in porn; a whole episode, rather scarily, shot from Frank’s point-of-view; and all manner of other bizarre incidents and behavior. The gags explode like fireworks throughout the series as things go south and very dark; more often than not ending in chaotic hilarity. (Mark: 9 out of 11)
LINE OF DUTY (2013 – 2014) – SEASONS 1 & 2 – NETFLIX
Very solid cop drama written and produced by Jed Mercurio, this story of cops investigating cops has an excellent British cast across two seasons including: Lennie James, Craig Parkinson, Neil Morrissey, Adrian Dunbar plus leads Martin Crompston and Vicky McClure. It’s tightly plotted with some brilliant twists and great suspense as you never quite know who’s on whose side. Special mention for Keeley Hawes who is a revelation as the cop being chased in the second season; as her acting is so brilliant, you never know if she’s good, bad, manipulative, a victim or just plain evil. (Mark: 8.5 out of 11)
LIVING DAYLIGHTS (1987) – PRINCE CHARLES 007 RETROSPECTIVE
The Living Daylights, for me, is a very fine Bond film and Dalton is an incredibly under-rated 007. He only did two films but brought a pathos, depth and unpredictability to the role that Moore severely lacked. Bond is a stone-cold-killer-burnt-out-anti-authoritarian-adrenaline-junkie who has seen death a thousand times over; and Dalton plays him as such. Connery, Craig and at times Brosnan got this over in their performances but none as much as Dalton. The film works brilliantly on the big screen too and stands the test of time as both a sterling Bond film and cracking espionage action thriller.For my full classic review clink on this link: (Mark: 9 out of 11)
NOSFERATU (1979) – SKY MOVIES
Werner Herzog’s atmospheric and moody adaptation of Stoker’s Dracula works brilliantly as both a horror film and homage to Murnau’s silent classic of the same name. Bruno Ganz excels as the unlucky Harker, sent to Transylvania to complete a property deal for his firm. Moreover, Klaus Kinski is chilling as the vampiric Count hell-bent on sucking the blood out of anyone who gets close. This has some exquisite cinematography plus an ethereal and dream-like style which makes this a memorable horror classic. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
OF MICE AND MEN (1992) – DVD
Steinbeck’s classic novel about two itinerant drifters is one of the best stories I have ever read. This film version directed and starring Gary Sinise, with John Malkovich as the tragic Lennie Small, is a touching rendition of the depression-set story. It’s such a brilliant book that any screen version will pale in comparison but Sinise and Malkovich excel in their respective roles and it’s great to see Steinbeck’s rich, authentic and grim tale of existence brought to life and death. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
SON OF SAUL (2016) – SKY MOVIES
This is a heavy-as-hell-Hungarian-holocaust drama deserved won Best Film in a Foreign Language at the Oscars. The story focusses on the intense Saul (Geza Rohrig) and his search for a Rabbi to give his son the Kaddish to allow him a correct Jewish burial. It is a harrowing experience, presented in a 4:3 screen ratio and pretty much all over-the-shoulder of the protagonist. These stylistic choices narrow the focus on Saul’s tireless journey through the camps in vain pursuit of said Rabbi. Amidst his search death, fire and flesh bleed through the landscape and the whole experience is gruelling, overwhelming and upsetting. (Mark: 8 out of 11)
YAKUZA APOCALYPSE (2016) – SKY MOVIES
This film from insane Japanese director Takeshi Miike is just mental. I enjoy Asian cinema films and Miike’s previous movies such as Audition and Ichi the Killer were excellent just-the-right-side-of-bizarre spectacles, yet this is an unwatchable mix of martial arts, horror, and gangster and monster movies. Recommended only for the brave, foolhardy or clinically insane. (Mark: 3.5 out of 11)
THE WATER DIVINER (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
A muddled mix of war, family, romance and period drama genres from debutant director and star Russell Crowe, The Water Diviner, boasts some wonderful scenery and highly moving scenes, notably in the WW1 Gallipoli flashbacks. However, Crowe the director is let down by a hamstrung script plus the miscasting of Olga Kurylenko who just seemed too glamorous to fall for Crowe’s recently widowed character searching for the bodies of his three dead sons. While it fails as a movie epic there’s enough to recommend it as a matinee rental on a wet Sunday afternoon while nursing an uber-hangover. (Mark: 6 out of 11)
WILD (2014) – NOW TV
Reese Witherspoon as Cheryl Strayed is excellent in this road-movie-true-story-drama as she trudges the Pacific Crest Trail in order to exorcise the demons of her past and somehow redeem her soul. It’s very well directed and structured by director Jean-Marc Vallee and screenwriter Nick Hornby and works really well as a pathos-driven character study; as well as stunningly shot travelogue with wonderful vistas. (Mark: 7 out of 11)
ALCOHOLICS ASSEMBLE! SOME “GREAT” ON-SCREEN DRUNKS!
“I was in love with a beautiful blonde once. She drove me to drink. It’s the one thing I’m indebted to her for.”
— W.C. Fields, Never Give a Sucker an Even Break
Cinema and booze have always been two of my favourite things to distract me before I stagger off to the great pub in the sky! So, why not have a look at some of the great drunks, characters and performances I have enjoyed over the years on the box or at the cinema.
AL PACINO – SCARFACE (1983)
While the rise of Pacino’s monstrous Cocaine-Capitalist owes much to narcotics and murder, he also plays a mean and nasty drunk. This is seen most notably in the restaurant scene where he spits and spews insults at his wife and the upper-middle classes surrounding him. Never has intoxication been so nasty and yet as sociologically adroit.
ARTHUR HOUSMAN – LAUREL AND HARDY (VARIOUS)
Laurel and Hardy are still the funniest people ever committed to celluloid but they had also had a fine “mess” of supporting actors. One of them was Arthur Housman, who was the go-to-guy when you wanted a funny lush. I reckon acting drunk is far more difficult than it looks but this guy nails it perfectly.
BARNEY GUMBLE – THE SIMPSONS (1989 – )
Barney Gumble’s status as a boozer is so legendary he actually makes Homer’s drinking look normal. Rarely is Barney sober and even his catchphrase is a supersonic belch from the pits of hell. Occasionally he will clean up or venture into normality but Barney will always be a hilarious alcoholic we’ve come to love.
BILLY BOB THORNTON – BAD SANTA (2003)
We all love a Christmas piss-up but Billy Bob Thornton’s drunken Santa does it all year round. He basically drinks in order to escape the shittiness of his life and a job he hates. This film is one of the greatest comedies of all time as Willie Stokes hits rock bottom and the self-destruct button too!
DEAN MARTIN – RIO BRAVO (1959)
Part of the original Rat Pack, Dean Martin, was known for his wild drinking ways off-stage. So, when he played drunkard, the Dude, in classic Western Rio Bravo (1959) there’s a thick varnishing of truth brought to the role. Martin’s Dude is a ridiculed because of his over-reliance on booze, thus the character attempts to get back some self-respect in a narrative heavy on machismo and redemption.
DENZIL WASHINGTON – FLIGHT (2012)
A jaw-dropping plane crash and landing introduces us to super-pilot Whip Whitaker. He should be celebrated as a hero but the character’s downfall is he performed this death-defying feat while high on drugs and alcohol. Washington is incredible in this brilliant evocation of a man battling addiction and his struggle is brilliantly orchestrated by Robert “Back to the Future” Zemeckis.
LEE REMICK & JACK LEMMON – DAYS OF WINE AND ROSES (1962)
This heart-breaking film — with brilliant performances from Lee Remick and Jack Lemmon — shows the power alcohol has as it systematically shakes you like a rabid dog until one’s soul is hollowed out. The story shows a couple succumbing to the demon drink after which their relationship is torn apart. It’s also demonstrates the power of AA in aiding treatment for recovery.
MICKEY ROURKE – BARFLY (1987)
Charles Bukowski was one of the great boozers of all time as he actually drank incessantly AND became a celebrated author. He didn’t just write about drinking and women but also his failure to reconcile with the futility of existence. Thankfully such dark materials made some great books as well as Barfly starring Mickey Rourke and Faye Dunaway. It’s painful to watch but a faithful rendition of Bukowski’s jet-black wit and mordant writing.
MICHAEL ELPHICK – AUF WEIDERSEHEN PET (1983 – 1984)
Elphick was a stalwart of British TV and cinema for years and brought a grizzled but often empathetic quality to his roles. He was comfortable as the lovable rogue and vicious hard man; none more so when he played psychotic drunken Irishmen McGowan in classic 80s comedy-drama Auf Weidersehen Pet. His character was so scary even Jimmy Nail’s Oz was fearful of him. Sadly, Elphick himself would pass away due to alcohol-related illness.
NICOLAS CAGE – LEAVING LAS VEGAS (1995)
The “Town Drunk” and “Tart with A Heart” are staple characters throughout our culture and these archetypes are breathed new life through incredible performances by Nicolas Cage and Elizabeth Shue. Cage’s writer is determined to drink himself to death while Shue’s hooker is just trying to survive. They are an unlikely romantic couple as this hard-hitting drama plays like a touching prayer to the bottle, the gutter and the emptiness of existence without love.
PETER COOK AND DUDLEY MOORE – DEREK AND CLIVE GET THE HORN (1979)
Derek and Clive were the filthy alter-egos of comedians Peter Cook and Dudley Moore. They released a series of sexually explicit, racist, sexist, homophobic, scatological and scurrilously hilarious albums in the 1970s. Moore and Cook basically got smashed and committed to tape a string of obnoxious sketches unsuitable to man nor beast. Both were alcoholics and the film version of Derek and Clive illustrates that. Dudley Moore would even have a box office hit as millionaire pisshead Arthur (1981) but this film, shot as they were kind of splitting up, is raw, funny and at times painful to watch.
RAY MILLAND – LOST WEEKEND (1949)
This dark noir is another filmic masterpiece from Billy Wilder. Ray Milland’s writer battles the bottle and those closest to him in an attempt to feed his addiction. Milland won an Oscar and not only lost weight but stayed in a mental institution in preparation. It’s an important film as it was one of the first to show alcoholic’s destructive nature rather than present the comedic drunk that had appeared mostly on screen up until that then.
RICHARD E. GRANT – WITHNAIL AND I (1987)
“We want the finest wines available to humanity. And we want them here, and we want them now!”
This often quoted but rarely bettered screenplay is one of the greatest I have ever witnessed and read; brimming with towering poetry, bilious insults and drunken repartee. Richard E. Grant is incredible as the paralytic, pathetic and cowardly actor who with Paul McGann’s eponymous ‘I’ for company laments a lack of career opportunities at the fag-end of the 1960s. It’s a hedonistic and bitter sweet joy with Withnail drinking every liquid known to humanity attempting to obliterate the now to avoid the tomorrow. Unbelievably, Richard E. Grant was teetotal so director Bruce Robinson had to get him “pissed” in preparation for a role he never bettered in his whole career.
W.C. FIELDS – VARIOUS
W. C. Fields was a comedy genius who began on the stages of Vaudeville as a juggler and became one of the most famous drunks on the silver screen. One may argue he simply transferred his alcoholic persona onto film but there’s some skill in being able to turn a weakness into a towering comedic strength. His one-liners and insults have gone down in history as some of the smartest and sarcastic ever written and when compiling this list his was one of the first name’s on it.
WILLIE ROSS – RITA SUE AND BOB TOO (1987)
Last but not least is the imperious drunk Willie Ross. His is the best lagging-pisshead acting I have ever seen on screen! His character in Rita, Sue and Bob Too was a racist, sexist, unemployable, drunken bully who when stood up to would simply cower amidst his own weak character and lack of bravado. Club comedian Ross also appeared in classic British TV drama Our Friends in The North as Daniel Craig vicious alcoholic father and also on stage in plays by Chekhov and Coward.
SCREENWASH – SEPTEMBER 2015 – FILM AND TV REVIEW ROUND-UP
Bit late with this one but I have been doing some work for charity; although I prefer not to talk about it. Anyway, I saw shedloads of big and small screen product in September! So, here’s a quick review of some of things I witnessed with marks out of 11.
**HELL YEAH – THERE’S SPOILERS!**
’71 (2014) – AMAZON PRIME
Chase-thriller ’71 centres itself on a British soldier portrayed by Jack O’Connell who on the run in enemy territory finds himself pursued by nefarious parties from both Irish and British sides. It’s a kinetic and suspenseful film, directed with verve and urgency and contains some heart-stopping moments, as well as a fine cast including Sean Harris and Richard Dormer. (Mark: 7.5 out of 11)
BADLAND: A ROAD TO FURY (2014) – BLU-RAY
Called Young Ones in the States this is a real genre oddity as it combines Western and Science-Fiction tropes within a dystopic narrative set in a god-forsaken hellish dustbowl. Michael Shannon is the father and farmer who tries his best to keep his family together in an unforgiving future. This is a very strange film which probably deserves another viewing to make real sense of what’s occurring; good cast though. (6 out of 11)
BLEEDER (1999) – DVD
No one does brutal studies of lowlife like Nicolas Winding Refn. His early Danish films, Bleeder included, are grim character pieces that burst into nihilistic violence. This features four friends who watch films together but whose lives are coming apart at the seams. It’s bloody, depressing but somehow remains compelling and watchable; much like a car crash on the M4. (7 out of 11)
EVEREST (2015) – CINEMA
This is suspenseful mountain disaster film which shows both the folly and bravery of men and women at high altitude. Some of the moments will leave you biting your nails and gasping for breath as the mountaineering team scale the Himalayas. The most impressive aspect is the cast including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more. (7 out of 11)
THE DROP (2014) – NOW TV
Tom Hardy offers another brilliant piece of character work as a Boston barman who works in a mob-owned pub. He finds himself threatened by local scumbag Matthias Schoenaerts over the disputed ownership of a dog. The puppy is very well cast but Hardy and James Gandolfini own the show with a sterling study of masculinity and controlled rage. (8 out of 11)
THE GAMBLER (2014) – BLU RAY
Great dialogue, direction and cast couldn’t stop me from hating the nihilistic lead character played by a miscast and too-nice Mark Wahlberg. He was such a miserable-death-wish cunt that I wanted the gangsters who were chasing him to kill him and save me from having to watch anymore of his irredeemable and depressing loser. (4 out of 11)
GOING CLEAR (2014) – NOW TV
This is an astounding documentary revealing the history, psychology and inner-workings of the Scientology “religion”. It’s an amazing expose with interviews from former members of the cult who having disconnected, found themselves stalked and discredited by the extremely paranoid Scientologists. It is compelling viewing for anyone interested in religion or alleged cults and the financial dealings of the group makes them akin to organised crime syndicate, such is their wealth and violent ways of dealing with “members”. (9 out of 11)
GOMORRAH (2014) – NOW TV
Gomorrah is one of the best TV dramas I’ve seen all year. It is a brutal and violent Italian gangster drama set in Naples and like modern day Roman times but with more plots, blood and murder. It follows the Savastano family and the enemies they face both on the right and wrong side of the law. No one is safe as the series reaches a deathly climax. Gripping stuff and highly recommended! (10 out of 11)
GRAVE ENCOUNTERS (2011) – AMAZON PRIME
If I had the choice of removing my genitals with a cheese grater or watching this film again I would choose the grater as this was just laughable. Neither scary or suspenseful it has loud shouting actors who should be shot with high-powered rifles rather than a camera. Basically only for people who like terrible found footage horror films or the mentally ill. (1 out of 11)
LEGEND (2015) – CINEMA
Tom Hardy is phenomenal as the Kray twins. Set in 60s London’s underworld this begins like a smack-bang gangster film before delving deeper into the psychology of mental illness of Ronnie Kray’s wife and his crazed brother, Ronnie. Tonally it gets caught between cartoon humour, glamourizing violence and serious crime drama but recommended for the lead performance. Indeed, Tom Hardy, as in Bronson (2008), humanizes monstrous criminals who probably don’t deserve it. (7.5 out of 11)
THE NECESSARY DEATH OF CHARLIE COUNTRYMEN – BLU RAY
A diabolically pretentious and awful Euro-drama which didn’t know if it was a comedy or gangster or rites of passage or study of grief type movie! Ultimately it tried them all and failed in every aspect! Avoid! (2 out of 11)
PADDINGTON (2014) – BLU RAY
I loved Paddington as a kid and the dulcet tones of Michael Hordern narrated the 2-D animated tales with warmth and charm. The funky film version is an even bigger delight with Ben Whishaw, Sally Hawkins and Hugh Bonneville collaborating beautifully with Paul King’s terrific script and lovely direction. The animation is a joy and the gag-rate incredibly high in a wonderful feel-good family film. (8 out of 11)
RIFIFI (1955) – NETFLIX (RE-WATCH)
This is a classic French crime drama from which involves the robbery of a jewellery store by a gang of ex-cons. It’s memorable for the long-near-silent robbery sequence in the middle act which is full of suspense and hold-your-breath moments. I loved that they humanized the criminals and the characters at the start and the robbery scene is often imitated but never bettered. (8 out of 11)
RUBBER (2011) – AMAZON PRIME
Bizarre horror-comedy which cannot under any circumstances be recommended unless you like fourth-wall-breaking-art-films-about-murderous-tyres-who-explode-birds-and-humans-with-telekinetic-powers. Actually, it’s also a satire on the nature of Hollywood filmmaking and an audience starved of originality; I think!(8 out of 11)
RUN ALL NIGHT (2015) – DVD
Liam Neeson is a drunken, washed-up mob enforcer who faces a race against time to save his estranged son (Joel Kinnaman) and his young family. It’s pretty generic fayre in which a grizzled Neeson can do in his sleep but it has some crunching action, car-chases and shoot-outs which fizz along impressively at a breakneck pace.(7 out of 11)
SALVATION (2014) – SKY MOVIES
Mads Mikkelsen could not save The Necessary Death of Charlie Countrymen but his quiet power is very much to the fore in this colourful revenge Western. He portrays a Danish former soldier whose wife and son are butchered by Jeffery Dean Morgan’s dastardly men, precipitating a path of bloody retribution. (7 out of 11)
THE WOLFPACK (2014) – CINEMA
A very interesting documentary about a huge family of boys and one girl who were kept as virtual prisoners in their own New York high-rise apartment by an alcoholic, bullying and eccentric father. The boys retained their sanity just about as they sought movies as a means to connect with society. The parodies they act out such as Pulp Fiction and Dark Knight were hilarious. But there is much pathos as both the children and Mother are tragic figures too having been “lost” and imprisoned by, quite frankly, a pathetic excuse for a father. (7.5 out of 11)
WHITECHAPEL (2009 – 2012 – Seasons 1-3) – NETFLIX
Started watching this during the quiet times at work and got pretty gripped by the East End murder cases investigated by Rupert Penry-Jones, Phil Davis and Steve Pemberton. It’s a well-made addition to the over-loaded detective genre which by Season 3 had some excellent suspense and drama. I was especially drawn in by Davis and Penry-Jones water-oil relationship and the latter’s OCD. (7 out of 11)
WYRMWOOD: ROAD OF THE DEAD (2015) – AMAZON PRIME
This is a really fun zombie-road-movie-gore-fest which is clearly inspired by Mad Max, Evil Dead, Braindead and George Romero’s oeuvre. Some lovely blood-gushing gore and imaginative machinery on show makes this low budget horror-comedy well worth a rental. (7 out of 11)
Movie stars are usually the Kings and Queens of a film! They propel the narrative and guarantee bums on seats when a film opens. They also create expectation and word of mouth buzz thus studios have invested heavily over the decades in icons such as: Al Pacino, Harrison Ford, Clint Eastwood, George Clooney, Julia Roberts, Tom Cruise, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Marilyn Monroe, Meryl Streep, Sylvester Stallone, James Cagney, Mel Gibson to name but a few.
I love movie star driven cinema, however, I’m also a big fan of the ensemble casts seen in genre films such as: comic book epics, crime thrillers, war films and Westerns. What an ensemble cast offers is a diverse set of characters and actors bouncing off one another to powerful effect. Most recently the mountain disaster film Everest (2015) had fine actors including: Jake Gyllenhaal, Jason Clarke, Michael Kelly, Emily Watson, Josh Brolin, John Hawkes and more. Thus, just for the hell of it I’ve picked out some of my favourite films which contained not just one big star but lots of fine actors who all combined to make a fantastic movie experience.
12 ANGRY MEN (1957)
Bona fide classic movie adapted from the TV play by Reginald Rose and directed by the legendary filmmaker Sidney Lumet. The claustrophobic nature of a jury arguing over a murder case is brought to the boil by a superlative Henry Fonda and sterling character actors such as: Jack Klugman, Lee J. Cobb, Martin Balsam and Robert Webber. It’s a real festival of acting full of sweat, anger, conscience, guilt and doubt.
AVENGERS ASSEMBLE (2012)
Joss Whedon’s Marvel behemoth broke all kinds of box office records across the world! It’s a humdinger of a movie with a cracking cast that included: Robert Downey Jnr, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, Samuel L. Jackson, Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Tom Hiddleston and many more! In fact, I’m surprised the set didn’t collapse under the weight of all the egos in front of camera.
GRAND BUDAPEST HOTEL (2014)
It’s cameo cast central in Wes Anderson’s fast-paced eccentric comedy with Ralph Fiennes leading the line-up with a terrific central performance. Also, tagging along for the quirky and colourful ride are such acting luminaries as: F. Murray Abraham, Willem Defoe, Tilda Swinton, Jeff Goldblum, Bill Murray, Jude Law, Edward Norton, Mathieu Amalric, Adrien Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Jason Schwartzman, Tom Wilkinson and Owen Wilson. Blink and you’ll probably miss some of them!
Christopher Nolan’s mind-bending heist thriller features a dream cast. Or does it! Yes – it does! It’s a Hollywood pot-pourri of movie stars such as Leonard DiCaprio, Oscar winner Marion Cotillard, star-in-the-making Tom Hardy, veteran character actors like Tom Berenger and Michael Caine and feisty starlet Ellen Page.
LA CONFIDENTIAL (1997)
While the careers of Russell Crowe, Guy Pearce and Kevin Spacey have gone up and down in various measures recently this brilliant crime film found them on the rise up the Hollywood ladder. Here they play a trio of very different detectives investigating movie lookalikes, murder and police corruption in Los Angeles. Throw in the likes of Kim Basinger, James Cromwell and Danny Devito and you have a cast to literally die for.
THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN (1960)
The cast of this classic Seven Samurai remake is remarkable as in, aside from Yul Brynner, they were all pretty much unknown at time of filming. So, kudos to the casting team who recruited such a charismatic troupe including: Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson and James Coburn; who would all become stars in their own right.
Not a large ensemble cast but a brilliant one nonetheless. In Mike Leigh’s quintessentially British council estate film we get three young British stars in Gary Oldman, Tim Roth and Phil Daniels plus Alfred Molina and Pam Ferris too. Each character drowns in depression, awash in concrete, unemployment and the stench of piss-stinking lifts and cigarette-stained wallpaper. This is a sad, funny, low-budget 1980s kitchen-sink classic.
Tarantino, of course, is not only about the cracking dialogue and violence and homages to other movie styles and genre but he also knows how to cast a movie. He rarely has a big film star at the helm of his films but rather relies on a mixture of known stars in supporting roles, character actors, plus fading or B-movie journeymen. Often, actors are cast on ability and suitability rather than saleability such as Pam Grier and Christophe Waltz. His keen casting eye gave us a wonderful Samuel L. Jackson – up until then limited to mainly supporting roles – and also relaunched John Travolta’s flagging career in the imperious ensemble crime film Pulp Fiction.
This spy thriller contains a “Who’s-Who” of British acting talent. We have Commissioner Gordon, Bane, Sherlock Holmes, King George VI, Doctor Who, Truman Capote and even Trigger from Only Fools and Horses acting in between the shadows of murky British Intelligence espionage. It’s a tricky watch as the director goes for atmosphere over exposition but the sheer style and quality of the performances ensure espionage has never been so intriguing.